Christmas Greetings

Dec 25 2010

Our twin four-year-olds dressed themselves for Christmas.

Nicely done, gentlemen.  You make a mama proud.  In the interest of full disclosure, you can plan to see this photo again as part of your wedding rehearsal montages.

Merry Christmas to all our friends,


Cocky or Confident?

Dec 22 2010

This is a picture of my brother:

I’m using it without permission.  I stole it off of his gmail status.

It’s not a very good picture.  (Why are you using this picture, Jeff?  You look like you’re being successfully hypnotized.)

I’m just calling it right now – I’ve already managed to make my mom really mad.  What do you mean by ‘It’s not a very good picture?,’ she’s thinking.  It’s a lovely picture.  He looks like a Hollywood star.

My mother is delusional in all the very best ways.  We had an argument a few years ago about this very topic.  My brother mentioned that a friend of his secured a modeling deal with Nike.  My mother chimed in that she thought Jeff should apply.

I love my brother.  He’s funny as heck.  He knows how to dress.  He has excellent hygiene.  (Something that should not be underrated.)  He’s fit.  He’s employed.  He can shoot a basketball; sometimes into a hoop.  And he’s not a model.

We all laughed at my mom.  Especially my brother.  He suggested that perhaps he could secure a modeling contract as a Scottish cowherd.  I looked for pictures of Scottish cowherds.  All I found were pictures of Scottish cows.

Turns out, that works, too.  Do you see the resemblance?

I thought so.

Anyway, my mom is delusional in all the very best ways.  She really, truly believes that her children can do anything.  Neither of us has secured a modeling contract or become President or pursued medicine or law because we choose not to do so… certainly not for lack of qualifications.

Growing up with a mom like mine resulted in two cocky children.  We kind of think we’re awesome.  Well, we do think we’re awesome, but I had to put “kind of” in there because it’s more socially appropriate.

At some point in adulthood, my brother and I figured out that we’re cocky and that, sadly, it’s not always justified.  We started playing a game with each other called “Cocky or Confident.”  It goes like this:

  1. Someone asks us to do something we’re not qualified to do.  This includes everything from our current forms of employment to cutting hair.
  2. We agree to do it.
  3. We call each other on the phone.  “Um… Jeff?”  “Yes, Beth?”  “I just agreed to plan a high-profile event for 150 people I don’t know.  Was I Cocky or Confident?”  “Cocky, Beth – you were Cocky.  When do you want me to cut your hair?”  “Tonight would be great.  Thanks.”

Here’s a picture of my husband and me with my hair after my brother cut it:

That was 4 years ago, so ignore any fashion implications, please.

Was Jeff Cocky or Confident?  I’m going to go with Confident.  I mean, I think we both know it’s not the best haircut ever, but I had just delivered twins two months before this photo was taken.  I needed a haircut in the worst (the WORST) way.  I called my brother because, of all the insane people in the world, I knew my brother would be all “of course I can cut your hair.”  He googled How to Cut Hair.  And then he cut it.  And then we took family photos.  It was awesome.  Like my brother and me.  That awesome.

The time my brother dyed his wife Kim’s hair?  Well, Jeff, that was Cocky.  You should never do that again.

I’ve often felt bad for my children that their mother isn’t the same bastion of endless adoration as mine.

After a recent dance competition in which my eldest daughter Abby performed, I told her what an amazing job she did.  She’s an incredibly talented technical dancer.  She’s athletic and graceful and her body just intuitively understands how to move.  She’s also very shy and pretty much paralyzed when she has to perform, so we work on encouraging expression and strength of movement.  Her dance instructors have been fabulous, always thinking of new tricks to teach her confidence.

I did tell her how amazing she was.  I really did.  You were great, I said.  Your movements are so fluid, and you hit every move.  You were beautiful.  Your memory for dancing in incredible. I went on and on and on.

And then Abby said, What can I do better next time?

Just so you know, when a 12-year-old asks you this, the correct answer is, Oh, nothing, sweetheart.  You can’t possibly do any better than you did.  You were just wonderful!

And then you should shut up.




Do not, under any circumstances, say something along the lines of: Well, maybe you could smile a little bit.

Or: It would be fun to see bigger movements.

Or, really, really don’t say something comparative, like: Your techniques were much better than the other groups, but their expression really made their dances interesting.

Saying those things would be dumb.

Saying those things would imply that you think that your daughter’s dance was boring.

Saying those things would probably make her cry and make you feel bad and undermine all of the good things you just said.

When I was younger, I was afraid I would grow up to be like my mother.

Now, I’m afraid I won’t.

The good news is, my friends’ daughter, little miss one-year-old Leigh, is showing some serious potential to fill the void I’ve created.

I was copied on an email message to my husband Greg last week, along with this photo:

The message read:

Greg, I thought you should know that when we were at the store the other night, Leigh kept pointing to this picture and saying “Geg, Geg.”  That’s you.  Congratulations!

Cocky or Confident? Get it?  (Sorry, y’all.)

So the next time Abby asks me “What can I do better next time?”, I’m sending in the big guns.

Mom and Baby Leigh, start your engines.  You’re going to be on duty for the next, oh, 25 years or so.

Raising the next generation of Cocky kids with a little help from my family and friends,


The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Dec 20 2010

If you haven’t ever read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson, I highly recommend it.

It starts: “The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world. They lied and stole and smoked cigars (even the girls) and talked dirty and hit little kids and cussed their teachers and took the name of the Lord in vain and set fire to Fred Shoemaker’s old broken-down toolhouse.”

For the record, my kids are not the worst kids in the history of the world.  They have never, to my knowledge, smoked cigars.

However, sometimes, in my darkest moments of child-rearing, I’m afraid that I’m raising the Herdmans.  Like last year, when Ian and Aden got themselves kicked out of the Christmas program at church.  Or last month, when Aden played with matches in her room.  Or the time that Ian stole BBQ ribs from our daycare provider (the kid has his priorities).  Or last summer, when Abby, Ian and Aden decided to host a neighborhood swim party by filling our backyard playhouse with water (they were very successful, with 2 feet of water before we caught them).

As an update for the people who’ve asked, Ian and Aden successfully participated in the church Christmas program last night.  They were invited by Mrs. M, the same volunteer music teacher who had to kick them out last year because they left her no alternative.  Mrs. M is like Jesus because she’ll just keep taking people back no matter how naughty they used to be.

This was also the first year that my 4-year-old twins, Cai and Cael, participated in the program.

The program included 4 costume changes: Angels, Animals, Hats and Scarves.  I was afraid I was going to screw it up, so I kept maniacally chanting “angels, animals, hats and scarves… angels, animals, hats and scarves…” under my breath.  Fortunately, Miss Grace, who’s probably about 7 years old, noticed my distress and cued me every time I needed to change my kids.  Thank God for Grace.

There were two moments that made the entire program for me — and for my mom and mother-in-law whom I caught crying together at least twice.

The first moment was from Cael, who recently found his middle fingers.

A few nights ago, Cael introduced me to his special digits by holding them boldly upright and telling me they’re “the fingerth for putting on our ringth.”  I quickly showed him the correct ring fingers.  Then we named all of our fingers; Pinky, Ring, Middle, Pointer, and Thumb.

Cael told me that Pinky is for sticking up when you drink tea.  He said he learned that from Tinkerbell.  I’m not sure when he was drinking tea with Tinkerbell, but I figure there are some things parents have no right to know.

Cai wanted me to name his fingers next.  He was a little bit upset to discover that all of his fingers have the same names as Cael’s.  Cai showed Pointer to Daddy and named it.  Greg misheard Cai and thought he called his pointer finger Frank.  I’m not sure how you get Frank from Pointer, but there it is.  Cai liked Frank WAY, WAY better.

Cael thought Frank the Finger was the coolest thing he’d ever heard.  He figured that since Cai had copied his fingers’ names earlier, Cael should get to copy Frank.

Cael named all of his fingers Frank.  (Oh yeah, Cai?  You have a finger named Frank?  Well, I have TEN fingers named Frank!)

That’s how Frank the Fingers joined our family.

My finger-naming intentions had clearly gone horribly awry, so you won’t be surprised to learn that Cael’s finger fascination intensified.  In recent days, we’ve had many appearances from Frank and Frank, the double-fingered flip-off… and many comments from my punny husband along the lines of “Let me be Frank with you,” and “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a…” you get the idea.

All of which has led to our conundrum.  How do you get your kid to stop flipping you off without making a big deal about it?

I don’t know.  We keep trying to give equal time to all the fingers hoping that will deemphasize the importance of the middle ones.

This is how well it’s working:

Remember, before I took you on our epic tour of finger naming, how we were talking about the Christmas program?  And the two moments that made the entire program for me?  And how I was sharing the first of those moments?

The first moment was from Cael, who brought Frank and Frank to the Christmas program.

During an entire song, Cael brought Frank and Frank out to play.  Now, to be fair to Cael, he clearly didn’t mean for Frank and Frank to join us; he didn’t even seem to notice they’d arrived.  But despite Cael’s intentions, Frank and Frank danced around and enjoyed the program.  They kept time to the music and picked at Cael’s pants.  And they never let the other fingers join in any reindeer fun.

Fortunately for our rapidly deteriorating reputation as parents, Cael had managed to place himself behind two rows of big kids.  Our section of the church was the only side that saw the Franks’ performance debut.

Still, our parents were sitting in our section, which meant they had front-row seats to watch the Franks.  Our dads laughed.  Greg laughed.  Our moms laughed until they cried.  And so did I.

The second moment of the Best Christmas Pagaent Ever is brought to you by Cai.

Cai wasn’t totally sure he wanted to perform.  By the second costume change, Animals, Cai dutifully donned his camel head and climbed onto the stage with the other kids.

A few seconds later, he was back with me in the pew, saying he didn’t want to do it.

I said that was fine.  He could sit with me.  After all, I didn’t want to be Distracting Stage Mom, shoving her unwilling kid up front.

But the next thing I knew, Cai was wiggling to get down so he could go back on stage.  I also didn’t want to be the mom with the undisciplined and unruly kid who kept running back and forth, stage to pew and pew to stage for the duration of the song.

So I told Cai, “That’s fine.  You can go on stage one more time.  But if you go up there this time, you have to stay there.”

Cai (pictured on the left with Cael on the right) went up on stage.

Photo courtesy of Mike McConaughey

He stayed on stage for the whole song.

Photo courtesy of Mike McConaughey

He stayed on stage even when he got a little bored and his eyes started to glaze.

Photo courtesy of Mike McConaughey

He stayed on stage even though he started to look around and wonder when it might be over.

Photo courtesy of Mike McConaughey

And he stayed on stage when the song ended and all the other kids left.

Photo courtesy of Mike McConaughey

I stage whispered, “You can come down now, Cai.”

Cai stayed on stage.

Photo courtesy of Mike McConaughey

Mrs. M waved him off and told him he could go sit with his Mom and Dad.

Cai stayed on stage.

Photo courtesy of Mike McConaughey

Eventually, I had to go on stage to rescue my child.

Photo courtesty of Mike McConaughey

I explained to the audience, “I told him if he came back up here, he had to stay.”

The audience laughed.  Our dads laughed.  Greg laughed.  Our moms laughed until they cried.

And so did I.

It was the Best Christmas Pageant Ever.


The Herdmans

We have a winner!

Dec 20 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen,

My sincere thanks for your entries in the Overwhelmedness Contest last week.  You made my first contest an overwhelming success, and I’m grateful for your honesty, your willingness to laugh in the face of crazy, and your bravery in sharing your stories with my little corner of the world.

I’m better for your sharing, and I hope you were encouraged by the stories, as well… even if it’s just to feel a touch more normal and a bit less alone.  Thank you for being a terrific community to me and each other this week and for making me regret my embarrassing disclosures a little less than usual.

Sally writes:

We do, in fact, have a winner in the contest.

So after developing a detailed tallying system, countless minutes reading, assessing and reassessing, Kim and I came to the conclusion that it was only fair to narrow it down to the most harrowing stories and tales and have Spencer pull the winning name out of a hat (or rather a red preschool bucket).

The $20 Starbucks gift card goes to… (drum roll, please)… Leslie! Between car accidents, office floodings, and general craziness at church (not to mention jet lag), we crown Leslie the overwhelmedness Queen.

AND the $1.55 goes to… (drum roll, please)… Dave Woolsey! Because if anything is more frustrating than being 75 feet from the Coffee Cottage, it’s a $1.55 gift card which we all know will buy nothing at Starbucks.

Dave, when finding yourself that close to the Coffee Cottage, the answer is always YES!  There.  I solved all your life problems.  You’re welcome.

Merry Christmas Everyone!


Congratulations, Leslie!  And Dave? 😉

My sincere thanks, Kim and Sally.  I’m exceedingly glad that I didn’t have to judge.  The fact that you both did it graciously while parenting your small children, preparing for Christmas, and having illness in your homes to boot… well, those things just show how very, very qualified you were for your roles.

I’ll join Kim and Sally in saying,

Merry Christmas Everyone!


The Silly Way

Dec 18 2010

Last night, I drove my kids home from a party “the silly way.”

Can we go the silly way?  Mom, can we, can we?  It’s FUN!

For those of you who don’t spend a lot of time in my car, the Silly Way is any way other than our usual route.

In the summer, the Silly Way runs just slightly out of town for a side-trip to see cows grazing in a field.

In the fall, we drive by the scary Halloween house.

Now that it’s winter, we venture out almost daily to look at as many Christmas lights and decorations displays as possible.

I’m a total sucker for the Silly Way.  I mean, sure, it’s a waste of time in an era when we feel compelled to rush to accomplish the next thing.  But I get weird little tidbits about and glimpes into the minds of my children when we take those few extra moments to go a different way.

All month, Cai (4) has been singing his original song called “Beautiful Lights.”  He does this in a clear, high falsetto voice that would do justice to the boys’ choir at St. James’ Cathedral in London.  The lyrics are “beautiful lights, beautiful lights, beautiful lights,” etc., etc. and so forth into infinity.  His siblings believe it’s the most irritating song on the planet.  I think it’s so sweet that it makes me cry.

Last night, we saw this display at a neighbor’s house:

You know who that is, right?

So did Cael (4).

Look, Mom, it’s Santa and Mary!

All the kids seemed to agree with Cael’s interpretation.

Maybe I should be concerned that my son is mixing his secular and religious characters.  Maybe I should care that Mary, the Mother of God, is hanging out with Santa Claus instead of holding sweet Baby Jesus.  I mean, Santa may once have been St. Nicholas, but now he’s the harbinger of all materialistic evil, right?  That’s no company for Mary.

Besides, “Santa and Mary” is not the route we usually take to the Christmas story.  That’s kind of weird.  It’s a little bit irreverent.  And it’s silly.  All of which means that I like it very much.

This Christmas, my family is talking about Baby Jesus.  Again.  Like we always do.

This Christmas, we’re waiting and wishing for our visit from Santa.  Again.  Like we always do.

And sometimes, we’re going to do things the Silly Way at Christmas time.  We’re going to make up our own songs and rhythms.  We’re going to see our faith and our secular world hanging out together.  We’ll find that we either irritate people or they agree emphatically with our strange conclusions.  And, frankly, either one is OK in my book.

As for my family, we’re doing this life the Silly Way.

And, oh, it’s FUN!

Three Fun Things

Dec 17 2010

According to Cael, age 4:

“Our noses are good for three fun things:

  1. Sniffing (pronounced ‘thniffing’)
  2. Eskimo Kisses
  3. and Picking”

I couldn’t agree more, Cael.  I couldn’t agree more.


Dec 15 2010

What fantastic entries in the Overwhelmedness Contest, ladies and gentlemen!

I am deeply impressed with the messes you all have made of your lives through the simple acts of being thoughtful parents, hard working employees, and community volunteers.  Ain’t it grand?

The smartest thing I did all week was to bow out of judging the contest.  My sincere and public apologies, Kim and Sally.  You have your work cut out for you.

I won’t waste your time by recounting all of the fabulous stories about sleeping with chickens, double-kid infections (I mean, I’ve heard of double-ear infections, but this one’s new to me), secret collisions with semi trucks, blog-comment-posting while at 1st grade Christmas programs, and a child’s attempts to remove her mother’s nipples.  Reading the comments is worthwhile, and I’m quite certain you’ll find something in there to make your life look calm and relaxed.  If calm and relaxed appeals to you.

In the spirit of Christmas (or the holiday of your choice), I will leave you with two gifts.

The first is technically a regift, complete with new wrapping paper and bow.  My loving brother posted an “actually” correction to my last blog entry, in which I stated that “caffeine is one of only five known antidotes for overwhelmedness.”  I think his gift of knowledge and hope is worth the repost here:

You were pretty close about there being 5 antidotes for overwhelmedness, Jeff writes.

Um, thanks, Jeff.

There are actually 6. After Coffee, the others are Sleep, Laughter, Lists, Exercise, and Alcohol.

You can even combine them, but some combos are more effective than others.

For example, Coffee plus Lists is a powerful overwhelmedness-reducer.  However, Coffee and Sleep don’t play nice together, and Exercise plus Alcohol can also be problematic.

For the ultimate overwhelmedness-eliminating experience, I highly recommend getting drunk on Kahlua, laughing at someone far bigger than yourself, getting knocked out, then dreaming of making lists while riding a recumbent stationary bike.  And to be clear, by “highly recommend” I mean “strongly caution against.”

See?  Regifting is fun.

My second gift to you is the gift of schadenfreude, which is defined as “pleasure derived from the misfortune of others.”  You have given me such schadenfreude in your overwhelmedness comments, that I feel the only appropriate way to thank you is to give you some in return.  Schadenfreude reciprocity, if you will.

My Christmas list used to include things like jewelry and books and make-up and magazines.  Since having children, my gift requests have changed to cries for help, desperate pleas for acts of service.

My number one most desired gift this year is stove-top and oven cleaning.  Here’s why:

My husband’s number one most desired gift this year is childcare for our 4-year-old twins so he can clean the garage.  Here’s why:

That stain on the foam mattress in the bottom center of the picture?  Dog pee.  We’re that fantastic.

This weekend is our Christmas open house.

Yep – I actually invited people over here.

I will be locking the garage door and praying to God no one finds the key.  (Did you hear that, God?)

My house will look like this:

That’s pretty much the extent of my Christmas decorating.  I had to work really hard to take that picture from an angle where things looked clean.  Here’s a picture from further away:

Oh, who am I kidding?  That’s pretty clean for us, too.  But it’ll be even cleaner at the open house.

I’ll spend all day Saturday cleaning and cooking.  I’ll hire my middle schooler and her friends to babysit to make that possible.  This is after I hired my friend’s mom to preclean the house this week; somehow, it’ll need recleaning by the weekend.

I’ll put clean, dry towels in the bathroom and stock it with soap and toilet paper.  I’ll hide my stove-top under an enormous skillet and double-burner griddle under the guise that that’s their place in the kitchen.

And then I’ll pretend our house always looks immaculate.  And that we always have soap in our bathroom.  And that I did it all without help.  (How does she do it?)

You won’t tell, will you?

Happy Schadenfreude, from me to you.